More parents back independents

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The Independent Online
A RECORD number of parents would send their children to an independent school if they could afford it, according to a poll published yesterday.

Even among Labour voters, support is growing for fee-paying schools and backing for state subsidies to help children from low-income families attend them. Around 55 per cent of parents questioned in the Mori poll said they would prefer private education, up 4 per cent on last year. The poll of 1,886 adults commissioned by the Independent Schools Information Service (Isis) directed questions at parents and the general public. It revealed that 63 per cent of the public supported the use of government funds to educate children in independent schools, up from 59 per cent in 1997.

The Government has abolished the assisted-places scheme, which subsidised independent school places for bright pupils, and is using the money to reduce class sizes. Last year, in a similar poll, 47 per cent thought standards in state schools were lower than in independent schools. This year, that has risen to 49 per cent.

Among Labour-voting parents, the proportion who would like to use private schools is 51 per cent - up from 47 per cent last year - compared with 40 per cent who would not. There are 2,400 independent schools in the UK and Ireland educating 590,000 children, about 7 per cent of the school population. Fees at independent schools range from pounds 600 for the youngest pupils to pounds 4,600 for a term. Mori's survey also found that smaller classes, better life chances, more teacher support and better discipline were reasons why parents would choose independent schools.

David Woodhead, national Isis director, said: "These findings show that, in spite of Labour's abolition of the assisted-places scheme, most people continue to believe that independent schools' high standards should be available to children regardless of their financial circumstances and the Government should support them."

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said that state school standards compared very favourably with independent schools. "Some of Britain's best brains ... were educated at state schools."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said polls of parents with children in state schools showed a high satisfaction rate.